Central Europeans reflect on life before the fall of the Berlin Wall
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Ondrej Polák and Katarína Poláková

The wall was on the inside

Bratislava, Slovak Republic, 2009
Slovak English

Ondrej Polák and Katarína Poláková, Bookstore owner, former underground printer, Receptionist, American Embassy

Ondrej: Probably from the other side of the wall they were cultivating some type of view about us. The wall though, was on the inside. And that wall, that border, more or less, runs through each of us as individuals. 

Katarína: It is not possible to compare this time to that time. This is the time that we desired. With open borders, all of the books, communication, but it is necessary to continue.   

Ondrej: People hurt each other. They would inform on each other. And then, they would cross everything out and start from the beginning. People have short memories and they have forgotten what happened before. But when people do not excuse themselves for their actions, they are not able to realize the impact of what they did. And when they don't have the will to repair the damage, there is the threat that what has happened in the past will happen again. The opportunity to create and form yourself is much bigger now than it was before.  There is an opportunity to choose who you want to be.

Katarína: We were waiting for more truth, more justice and responsibility. Because many of the same people are still in power, there is the threat that we will regress to where we were before. One thing, for example, that has gotten better is that there are many more programs for the handicapped. They have specialized sheltered workshops.  There are handicapped parking spaces and architecture is designed to make it so that handicapped people can move around. But there is still a problem with work. They do not have the chance to be employed in a wide-range of jobs. 

The state should also be providing more employment opportunities for the Roma. I am working with the handicapped and the Roma through my NGO. Before the revolution it was obligatory for the Roma to have jobs. Now, more Roma are unemployed and drugs and prostitution have entered the community. From the point of the view of the government the Roma present many problems because they live differently and some of them commit crimes. Our NGO searches for new talent in the Roma community. Our goals are to help them professionalize their talents and then present them and their positive skills. We hope this work motivates others in the community to make the same positive changes in their life.  

Ondrej: The language that young people use today is more superficial. It is the language of running away. It is slowly becoming normal that you go abroad when you are 18 years old. At this age we had a circle of people from art, from psychology, from sociology and philosophy. We met and had discussions. This is happening less now, maybe because people today are more satisfied with the status quo. And people in our generation are meeting less because of age.

Katarína: What I feel is that there are now, here, many, many new artistic opportunities. There are many contacts between artists from here out to the world in theater, music, and the visual arts. And when you compare the literature now to before, everything is more open. There are a lot of new publications in science and religious titles. And now you can open your own NGO and your own business. It is financially difficult, but beautiful. 

This interview was in Slovak and English with the aid of a translator
Photo by Magda Stanová

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